By John H. Foote

TIFF officially opens today in Toronto, the annual celebration of cinema from around the globe. As always, I am excited to be covering the festival, though for the first time in three decades of attending and writing about the films, I am admitting to some disappointment. For weeks now, as the slate of films from TIFF was being announced, there were rumblings that the American studios were staying away in droves, withholding the bigger films, those headed for the Oscar circle, because a live audience could not be promised, and some of the films (but not all as I have learned) will be screened digitally to the private homes and offices of some of we critics.

I am one of those critics who chose to stay home and watch the films in my office, 

It is certainly no hardship, my most comfortable chair, my massive 50 inch plus TV screen surrounded by a myriad of notepads and pens, my laptop, my iPad. Oh no, doing the festival from home is not difficult at all.

But I start to look at the screening schedule and discover not all the films are screening to we press at home. That stings, especially since at least four of them are top of the list must sees. I will of course find other means to see them, I will miss the vibe of the city when TIFF is in place, the quiet walk to the bakery where I grab my bagels and food for the day, a coffee and three large bottles of water for the morning. The one block walk to the cinema from the just opened bakery shows the city coming to life as Ubers and cabs speed up and down the streets, and Richmond Street already has a few keeners like me lining up to get into the Scotiabank Bank Theatre. Seeing me, the lovely young lady who has been there for years waves me in to sit. Holding a lobby pass gets me out of waiting and my legs cannot take standing too long. Always with a smile she brings me inside and sits me on a bench until she gets the all clear upstairs, allowing us to chat briefly about life in general.

“How are your girls” she asks brightly.

“Both doing great” I answer, “Thank you for asking.”

“When you going to wise up and ask me to marry you?” she asks, cheekily,

“Damn, you ruined my morning surprise” I answer.

“John, John … just asking, no reason to get upset” she replies with a sparkling grin.

“You know I am much older than you?” I ask.

“Not too much” she smiles that smile, “and besides, older guys are my thing. You are my thing, I read you all year and then see you here …  mean come on, marry me'”

Attractive, no stunning girl, beautiful figure, no, make that sex incarnate when she walks across the room, AN ABSOLUTE KNOCKOUT, loves movies, 34 and looks younger, guessed my age last year at 44 (love her) when I was 61, and a year later I look no different. Great genes I suppose. We chat back and forth and agree to marry at 4 p.m. today. I agree to meet her back here.

The escalator begins to move and I am given the OK to go up. Looking up, three stories up of metal escalator, I wonder how long will this festival challenged escalator be in operation this year? In the past by day three it has broken down, a living hell to folks like me. Last time it went down it was for a couple of days and absolute hell because the able-bodied folks stormed the elevator despite the signs clearly marked for Handicapped first. Squeezed into the tiny box, my first reaction is someone forgot their deodorant, and someone seems to have bathed in perfume. A large lady is behind me, her body parts pressed into me, not her fault nor entirely terrible, but I am a guy who prefers his own space, stay out of the circle. The elevator door opens and we are burst onto the floor where the action happens, here is where we find the cinemas. People bound out of the elevator and head to their destinations, guided by the ever-smiling festival staff, and we find our theatre. As the others line up as though in old Russia for goods, I am seated near the front, and will go in before the rest. Me, and the rest of the handicapped, young and old, some in wheelchairs with caregivers, others like me, hobbling along with their trusty cane. Waved in, I find my seat, the same as always and park myself. I take my water out of the bag, ad my thick Program book and the rest goes under my chair. As the other critics and industry folk enter the cinema, I look for friends of mine, but none have an interest in this film so early in the morning,


The room darkens, the screen illuminates, it begins again.

Again those magicians who run TIFF have again found a way not to be defeated by the hell of COVID. Though the festival will evolve as the film industry evolves, film is alive and well still. The movies have survived two World Wars, the madness of Adolf Hitler (who loved movies), the crazy turbulence of the sixties, the fall out of the Nixon years, not being taken seriously by Hollywood in the early years of its existence, until finally we made it. Piers Handling, the GREAT Handling, changed the name from The Festival of Festivals, bold and brash to be sure, but the Toronto International Film Festival was broader, bigger and frankly the right move at exactly the right time. TIFF had been born. Not even 9/11 stopped cinema, it rolled on (as it should have) under Handling’s Zen like, wise guidance. In a sea of madness and seeming chaos, Piers moves through it, non-plussed, never arrogant, just confident in way. From across the room he might spot me, wander over and shake my hand asking how I am doing, and then move off to someone else. 

I admire him so.

His retirement has no doubt cost the festival much, yet I suspect he is still around if needed to advise. He built TIFF every bit as much as the original three who started the whole thing in the first place. Handling guided TIFF into becoming Canada’s most important cultural event.

TIFF 2021 is on!

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